Advent is all about light: the absence of it and the glory of it. It is a season dear to my heart because I am a photographer who spends what seems like a lot of time waiting for the ‘right’ light, and because I have spent a fair proportion of my life in the ‘darkness’ of a chronic illness and under the pall of clinical depression.
November skies (and February skies for that matter) often seem to be characterised by a dullness, a heaviness, a flatness. The light seems stuck all day. I am learning to try to see this as ‘pearlescent’ and ‘soft’, where shadows are only hinted at, and colours can sometimes appear more ‘true’. But after years of medication this middling place is somewhere I have come to distrust, associating it with blankness and lack of sensation, with a cotton-woolled head to go with the massed banks of soft cloud.
So Advent’s revelation often seems to coincide (in the south of England that is) with clearer, brisker weather that makes my soul sing out. If I am not well enough to venture out with my camera, I return to my habit of taking pictures out of windows. Then the light around my house seems to illuminate humdrum functional objects and treat them to a twist of mystery and majesty. My eyes seem to open wider in response to the angle of the sun as it travels lower in the sky. I am no longer so intimidated by a sun that sometimes stares so balefully, revealing the flaws in everything it touches. This low sun, though capable of spilling dramatic shadows hither and thither, seems to adopt Emily Dickinson’s way of truth-telling that I have always found comforting: ‘ tell the truth/but tell it slant’.
Such angles of illumination seem a far cry from the blast of Advent glory-light that is often triumphantly used to characterise our God as Judge of all. I suspect that in our black and white blinkeredness we mistake all glory-light as harsh. We cannot look straight into its heart, true, but I wonder if it is our lack of compassion for others as well as ourselves that means most of us cannot truly imagine what a Godly love-light might feel like to our soul. Yet this message of light in the Advent story is of the ‘both now and indeed then’ kind. Incarnational light is precisely and absolutely everyday light: the ordinary, sometimes sunny, but mostly behind the clouds kind; the light that requires waiting for, in expectation of its sudden appearance, with hope. It is a sign of my own receding darkness that I am beginning to grasp (though oh so slowly) that revelations by this kind of light keep happening, whether I see them or not. My hope and prayer is that I might be given more of a glimpse, of more of those glints in God’s eyes, more often.
So perhaps the skies don’t clear, and the weather doesn’t actually change, has never really changed in December where I live. Perhaps it is rather that my Advent preoccupation with the Light makes me appreciate my everyday light differently, and remember it from year to year as a season when I might see more clearly, where my shadows are more clearly defined, and so healed; as a time when the work of Christ in me begins anew; as a prescribed period for reminding myself where and why I live. Advent is the place where I know I am a child of the Light.
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog.